Do you like being organized when you travel?
I do, very much (being a Taurus means I thrive on lists). I’m the kind of person that even color-codes her lists, and I have special pens for different types of writing, so it’s no wonder that I’m partial to the best packing cubes when it comes to clothes.
You don’t have to go to these extremes of organization but if you’ve ever rummaged through your suitcase and flung things out in frustration, you’ll love these. Goodbye mess, it’s time to de-stress.
How 3 simple travel packing bags changed my life
I always thought I was organized in my packing. After all, I drew up my first packing list in the 1980s, before templates and apps and list exchanges on social media.
But in truth, my suitcase usually looked as though it had encountered a tornado.
Until I discovered packing cubes for travel.
On my last trip, my suitcase looked like THIS. (Some days it’s even neater.)
What are packing cubes, anyway?
These marvelous little travel packing cubes are basically packing organizers – small pouches made of synthetic material into which you slip your belongings. This keeps them all together and prevents everything from jumbling itself up in your suitcase or backpack.
You can use a few small ones for toiletries and underwear, and still leave your clothes flat at the bottom of your suitcase.
Or you can do what I now do, which is to fill my suitcase with a couple of large packing cubes and one or two smaller ones.
Do packing cubes work? How to pack with the best packing cubes
Of course they work! Here’s the method I use when packing bags for travel:
- Decide what to pack. As with any packing adventure, I start by laying out what I’m taking on the bed. Then I get rid of half of it (that’s the half I never end up wearing).
- Group things logically. Then I group like with like. Cosmetics in one pile, creams in another. Underwear and socks together. Tops in one pile, bottoms in another, scarves in another, and so on.
- Choose your travel bag. I decide whether I’m taking a backpack or a carry-on because space will be as much a determinant as weight.
- Decide how many cubes to take. This will depend on the length of my trip. A carry-on will usually fit two small cubes and one medium or large one, depending on the bag.
- Start packing bags. How you do this is a personal choice. Some women like to roll their clothes. Others bunch them by placing them one on top of the other and then rolling them. The easiest (and laziest) method is to simply place things in layers, as you would normally do in a suitcase.
You can actually chunk down your suitcase packing cubes into even smaller installments: just add a Ziploc or similar plastic bag inside your cube – sort of cubes within a cube.
A note on packing
Rolling and bunching work best with softer, lighter items, like blouses or thin cardigans. With heavier sweaters or jeans, this method can actually take up more room and using a simple layering method works best.
Why use packing cubes? The pros and cons
Unless you already use packing cubes yourself, you may still be harboring a tiny doubt or two. Don’t! I can tell you that packing cubes revolutionized the way I pack, and what I take with me.
I used to hate packing – now it’s actually fun. (Well, less frustrating, anyway.) If you’re not sure how to use packing cubes, just try as you go, you’ll soon figure out your own system.
The pros of packing cubes
✅ You’ll find your things more easily, especially if your cubes are in different colors.
✅ It’s a great way to feel organized when life around you is so disorganized. No matter how neat, clothes in your suitcase have a way of rearranging themselves when let loose.
✅ You can easily see what you’ve packed without having to turn your suitcase inside out.
✅ You don’t actually have to unpack in your hotel room. Leave things in the cubes and place these on the closet shelf (which hasn’t necessarily been cleaned to your standards, by the way).
✅ Going through security is a breeze and you won’t have everyone staring at your underwear if you have to open your carry-on or your backpack.
✅ If your suitcase breaks (or explodes, as once happened to me) your things will stay together.
✅ You can pack your valuables into one of the smaller ones and just slip it into your purse if your suitcase gets tagged for the hold. So much better than having to repack your suitcase at the gate.
✅ The smaller cubes are great for slipping into your daypack.
✅ You can use one for your dirty laundry.
The cons of packing cubes
❌ Because you can fit more things in, it’s easier to overpack, which means more weight and stronger wrinkles.
❌ If you’re not accustomed to using packing cubes, you might forget what’s in which cube and you may have to open a couple before you find your precious scarves.
❌ Zippers can break. Or so I hear because it’s never happened to me…
How to choose the best travel cubes
They may look the same, but each packing cube set is different. Here are some key characteristics to consider when you’re choosing the best packing cubes for travel:
- The size of the travel cubes in the set. Some sets come with two cubes of similar size, while others may come with 3-4 different sizes. If your cubes are too big, they won’t be of much use – you might as well jumble all your clothes into a suitcase since everything will get mixed up anyway. Some of the larger ones are even too big to fit into carry-on bags!
- Packing cube colors. For some reason, most manufacturers make all cubes in a set the same color. So if you use several of the same size, you won’t necessarily know what each one contains. My best packing tip for cubes is to get a friend to buy a set of a different color, and trade one of the bags.
- The weight of each bag. Usually, the heavier they are, the sturdier but some of the lightweight cubes are of extremely high quality and durable – so expect to pay the price. Also, if your cubes are quite heavy, they might actually affect the weight of your cabin baggage. With restrictions very tight, especially on discount airlines, every bit of weight counts. The best cube is one that is durable yet lightweight.
- Think of the mesh. I love those mesh fronts because they let me see what’s inside. But if you plan to put dirty clothes or muddy sneakers in there, think twice because you might be soiling the entire contents of your suitcase. You can easily remedy this by bringing along a plastic bag to put into your cube or by buying a shoe bag. The mesh can also tear or get caught on something.
- Consider special features. You may want some waterproof packing cubes or clear packing cubes. Remember, not all packing cubes are made the same.
Special packing cubes tip
Buy more than you think you’ll need because like handbags, you’ll want a selection of sizes you can mix and match or trade with your friends. If you need smaller units add a few heavy-duty ziplock bags to separate things even more inside a larger packing cube. Not sure where to buy packing cubes? Check out my reviews below for online options, or head to your nearest outdoor supplies store for a look.
Comparison chart: Best packing cubes
|Shacke Packing Cubes||4pc||8 colors||Water-resistant; 4" deep plus a laundry bag||Buy Now!|
|Pro Packing Cubes||6pc||7 colors and color mixes - a great packing organizer set for any traveler||Lifetime guarantee; lightweight||Buy Now!|
|Amazon Basics||4pc||6 colors||Cheap packing cubes without compromising on quality: this is your basic 4-piece packing cube set||Buy Now!|
|Eagle Creek Pack It Cubes||3pc||3 colors for standard sizes - others may have more colors||Ultra lightweight and plenty of additional sizes in this travel packing organizer set||Buy Now!|
|Ebags packing cubes||3pc||7 colors, including some patterns||Lifetime warranty (and my top packing cubes choice!)||Buy Now!|
Packing cubes reviews
If you need a bit more detail than the comparison chart, here is some additional information about each of the packing cubes above to help you choose the best travel packing cubes for your trip.
Alternatives to travel cubes
Best compression packing cubes
Everyone talks about compression cubes and in theory, they’re a wonderful thing. In truth, I haven’t yet found a set that works the way it’s supposed to – but then, I haven’t tried them all.
I’m familiar with two main types of compression bags, the ones with straps and those with zippers.
I find the ones with straps work better. I once had an early version of this ALPS compression bag and was amazed at how much I was able to compress into it.
You may consider buying a set of clear compression bags. I had far less success with the zippered plastic bags – I haven’t tried one whose zipper didn’t rip after 3-4 uses. Frankly, I wouldn’t waste my money on these; if you must have this kind of bag, get some large ziplock-type bags and use those instead. At least it won’t cost a lot to replace them.
The toiletry travel bag
Another alternative to packing cubes are bags for toiletry storage. Most of these are either carrying bags, or they unfold and can be hung for easy access. I can’t say I’m partial to these – I’d rather use a small travel packing cube and put a few transparent zippered bags inside, with various toiletries grouped together. Even pencil cases or plain plastic bags can do.
I tend to group like with like – medicines together, day creams together, cleansers together and so on. I also decant my toiletries into smaller airline-compliant travel bottles and bottles – the only time I take the original container is when there’s hardly anything left and I can throw it away somewhere along the way. I also try to take any beauty samples I’ve collected because they’re light and I won’t be bringing them back.
If you’re keen on keeping everything in a single bag, consider something like this one, which can also be hung up.
But even the most expensive toiletry bag can be a waste if the size is wrong, and size is one of the most common complaints, so know exactly what you’re taking, and make sure it all fits before you buy.